Judge Strips K-9 Officer of Qualified Immunity in Letting Dog Tear Off a Woman’s Scalp

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Last week, a federal judge ruled that a Brentwood Police K-9 officer whose police dog tore the scalp off a shoplifting suspect in 2020 cannot claim qualified immunity to escape facing the woman’s federal civil rights lawsuit.

“A reasonable officer would have known in 2020 that it violates the Fourth Amendment to prolong a dog bite after the suspect had done everything in their power to communicate surrender, and to give a physically incapacitated suspect repeated commands to sit up or crawl rather than calling off the dog,” U.S. District Court Judge Rita F. Lin wrote in her April 29 decision.

According to the suit, in February 2020, an employee of a Brentwood, California, cosmetic store called police and reported that three young women had shoplifted several cosmetic products from the store.

Police responded, locating on of the women hiding in a field behind a set of bushes.

In violation of the officer’s training, the suit filed by Adante Pointer maintained the officer “sicc’d” the dog on the woman “without providing any warning or a reasonable opportunity to surrender.”

The officer then allegedly allowed the German Shepherd to “bite and gnaw” at the woman’s head “until it ripped her scalp into shreds.”

The suit further alleges that the officers “mercilessly demanded” the woman “stand up and walk out of the brush before they would offer any assistance. When (she) emerged from the bushes, the top of her head was bloody and mangled with large chunks of her scalp missing.”

Judge Lin allowed the officer to claim to qualified immunity for using the K-9 to apprehend Talmika Bates, but she found “that a jury should decide whether the length of time he allowed the German Shepherd to attack Bates during the 2020 arrest was excessive force.”

“Moreover,” she continued, “a reasonable jury could find that Rezentes realized by thirty seconds into the bite, at the latest, that the dog was biting Bates’s head, and that a reasonable officer would have acted promptly to call the dog off, rather than wait another 25 to 30 seconds.”

A police bodycam video shows Bates screaming that she would surrender. Yet Rezentes does not release the dog, and instead tells Bates to come out of the bushes. The officer is still holding the taut leash while Bates screams for her mother as she is dragged by the dog clamped onto her head. By the time Rezentes pulls the dog off, Bates’ scalp is torn from her skull, big pieces of flesh are missing, and she is bleeding profusely.

Bates required more than 200 stitches in her head, surgical tissue rearrangement and laceration repair. She’s been diagnosed with mild diffuse traumatic brain injury, mild post-traumatic brain syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“This a grotesque case of police abuse,” said civil rights attorney Adanté Pointer, of Oakland’s Pointer & Buelna, Lawyers For The People. “Rezentes stood by and let his dog maul an unarmed young lady without giving any warning or providing her a chance to surrender. Ms. Bates is lucky she survived such a dangerous and traumatic incident. Police are now on notice that using their canines to exact street justice is unlawful.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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